My research examines interpersonal models psychopathology in childhood and adolescence. I am especially interested in interpersonal experiences with peers, including peer stress, peer influence, peer status (likeability, popularity), peer victimization, friendship, etc. I am most interested in understanding how these interpersonal experiences and stressors are related to the development of depression, self-harm, and health risk behaviors (e.g., substance use, sexual risk behavior) among children and adolescents. This work is based on a developmental psychopathology framework emphasizing the reciprocal nature of associations between children’s behaviors and their environment, and the interplay between normative and atypical developmental processes. Recently, i have become interested in adolescents’ use of technology to better understand peer relationships and associations with development.
Adolescent Depression and Self-Injury
I am interested in why some adolescents, particularly girls, are at high risk for depressive symptoms, and self-injurious behaviors. Ongoing work, including from this and this project (with collaborators Drs. Matt Nock, Karen Rudolph, Paul Hastings, George Slavich, and Matteo Giletta), examines biomarkers of adolescents’ social stress responses (including the HPA axis, RSA, inflammatory gene expression) that may help us predict which adolescent girls are most likely to experience suicidality following the experience of interpersonal stress. Collaborations with Drs. Adam Miller and Margaret Sheridan at UNC allow us to also look at neural markers of suicide risk.
We know that one of the most powerful predictors of adolescents’ engagement in health risk behavior is the belief that their peers are engaging in similar behaviors. Yet, despite decades of research examining the presence of peer influence effects, little work has helped elucidate how peer influence works, or which adolescents may be most susceptible/resilient to conformity pressures. My research on adolescent health risk behaviors examines peer influence processes (i.e., mechanisms) and vulnerabilities (i.e., moderators). Some of this research is motivated by theories and methods in social psychology and increasingly I am becoming interested in how biological factors may be relevant for understanding peer influence susceptibility, social reward sensitivity, and behavioral inhibition. This work involves ongoing data collections related to this project and also has involved the study of neural markers of social experiences in collaboration with Drs. Eva Telzer and Kristen Lindquist.
Technology and Adolescent Development
Adolescents’ peer interactions occur within the context of technology, including the use of social media. With Dr. Eva Telzer, I am co-directing the Winston Family Initiative on Technology and Adolescent Brain Development which will include research examining the associations among technology use, social development, neural development, and educational/adjustment outcomes.
Here is a word cloud from the titles of recent papers!